U.S. Water News Online
HONG KONG -- Leaky sewage pipes and bathroom ventilation
fans carried contaminated droplets through a Hong Kong apartment
complex, causing one of the world's worst outbreaks of SARS, World
Health Organization investigators said.
Also, Taiwan's health chief resigned to take responsibility for
the worsening SARS crisis that has shut two hospitals in the capital
Taipei. The government appointed a highly respected epidemiologist to
Twu Shiing-Jer's resignation came as 10 new cases of severe acute
respiratory syndrome were reported in Taiwan, along with three deaths
-- two of them the first doctors there to die of SARS. The disease
has now made 274 people ill and killed 37 in Taiwan.
Worldwide, at least 613 have died and 7,700 been infected since
SARS emerged in southern China in November.
In Hong Kong alone, SARS has infected 1,706 people and killed 238.
More than 300 people contracted the illness at the Amoy Gardens
apartment complex in late March, and 35 people died. The speed of the
infection amazed health experts, who at the time believed the disease
was spread mainly by person-to-person contact.
A report by WHO investigators blamed an ``unlucky'' combination of
circumstances -- a patient with diarrhea, seeping pipes and drafty
``It's just an accumulation of events,'' team leader Dr. Heinz
Feldmann told a news conference. Feldmann said there was no way to
guarantee against a repeat but that another such outbreak seems
When investigators went to Amoy Gardens to collect samples, they
found no live coronaviruses -- the family of virus believed to cause
severe acute respiratory syndrome -- and no remaining genetic
material from the virus, Feldmann said. The WHO's findings largely
confirm an earlier report by Hong Kong officials.
The WHO team is still testing samples collected from another
housing development, the Tung Tau Estate, that suffered a minor
outbreak. Feldmann said preliminary findings showed the sewage system
did not appear to be the cause.
The disease was brought to the Block E building of Amoy Gardens by
a sick man visiting his brother, the Hong Kong government said
earlier. The man had diarrhea and others who caught SARS in the
building also developed diarrhea, spreading the virus through the
Droplets containing the virus apparently got into some apartment
units through dried-out drain traps -- the U-shaped pipes that are
supposed to keep gases and waste from coming up back up. Bathroom
exhaust fans sucked droplets into apartments, the WHO report said.
The fans could also have moved contaminated droplets into a light
and air shaft, where wind carried them into other apartments through
Feldmann said there was no evidence the virus was airborne, but
small droplets can travel up to five feet through the air, perhaps
further with a strong wind.
A pipe breakage shut down the water used to flush toilets at one
point, possibly trapping some infected sewage and allowing the virus
to multiply, WHO said.
Feldmann said an earlier outbreak of SARS at Hong Kong's Metropole
Hotel apparently was caused by close person-to-person contact. An ill
mainland Chinese medical professor visiting the Metropole in February
infected 16 people who spent time on the ninth floor. They spread
SARS throughout Hong Kong and to Vietnam, Canada and Singapore, which
also saw fatal outbreaks.
In China, officials Friday started punishing people for violating
SARS-related restrictions. A woman received a one-year sentence for
leading protesters who vandalized a building being turned into a
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